Chicago Ridge boy finds solace with other younger burn victims

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Mohamad Dallash is like any other 8-year-old child who likes to have fun. But within a moment’s notice, the Chicago Ridge youth was met with a tragic incident that could have cost him his life.

He was playing with his sister, Sama, 6, in their backyard with another neighborhood child. According to Mohamad’s mother, Yasmin Ablitar, the neighborhood child decided to start a fire in a cardboard box.

However, the neighborhood child became afraid when the fire grew in intensity. The child reportedly kicked the cardboard box, which went into the direction of Mohamad. The Chicago Ridge boy suddenly found himself surrounded by flames.

Mohamad immediately raced to a nearby garden hose and turned it on. He doused himself with water and put out the fire. The fast-thinking youngster essentially saved his own life.

However, the two Dallash children did not get away unscathed. Sama suffered first- and second-degree burns on her arms and face. Mohamad had burns on half his body.

Both children survived and attended the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance (IFSA) inaugural Family Day event for young burn survivors and their immediate family members at Brookfield Zoo on Sept. 12.

The two children attended the event with the rest of the Dallash family . which was held to unite burn victims and stress fire prevention. The other members of the family present at the event were siblings Towfeek, 16, and Sara, 13, and the father, Saed.

Mohamad’s mother is delighted with her son’s recovery and his attitude.

“He's such a brave kid that has been through so much,” Yasmin said.

Mohamad’s entire family was happy to meet families that have gone through similar situations and discuss how they’ve handled it at the Brookfield zoo event.

“When you have a child who is a burn survivor, you typically do not come across many people going through the same thing as a family,” said Philip Zaleski, the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance’s executive director. “This is a way for parents to network and kids to get to know each other and together learn to cope as a family.”

The five-hour program hosted by the non-profit organization was open to burn survivors, ranging from infant to 12 years, and their immediate family members. Over 100 participants gathered, consisting of 20 burn survivors, their families, volunteers, firefighters and medical professionals.

The event was held from noon to 5 p.m. The program featured educational presentations, lunch and games. Participants also received T-shirts and goodie bags.

Burn unit nurses from University of Chicago Medical Center and Loyola University Medical Center discussed the coping process with a burn injury, including acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder that can follow an entire family after a single burn incident.

“Children who are burn survivors often times have trouble coping and are even teased by other children because of their scars,” Zaleski said. “Through our organization, families are united and together we help mentally heal any injuries that have sufficed as the result of being a burn victim.”

The goal of the event was to create an environment of mutual acceptance, respect and support while participating in family-friendly events and activities. This was the IFSA’s first family-friendly event, aimed as recovering together as a family.

          “When there is a burn victim in a family where there are other siblings, a lot of attention goes to that child and parents become extremely overprotective of that specific child because of what happened and other children within the family can begin to feel resentful or left out,” Zaleski said. “This event is an opportunity for the entire family to be there and everyone is included. It is very family-orientated.”

It was also the organization’s first outreach program for burn-injured children under the age of 8. The IFSA also hosts two other free programs for burn-injured individuals, Camp “I Am Me” and a Young Adult Summit. The weeklong burn camp, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary in June, is open to children 8 to 16 years old, while the Young Adult Summit is a three-day weekend retreat for individuals ages 18 to 25.

          “The camp is a great way for burn survivors to connect with one another,” Zaleski said. “Children participate in traditional camp activities from crafts to boating to fishing and also spend time working with volunteers, firefighters, social workers and medical professionals talking through their situation and learning how to move forward.”

          Mohamad was among one of the camp participants this summer.

          “I really liked camp,” he said.

          “Mohamad gained confidence from his participation in the camp this past summer,” his mother said. “He felt like he was the only one with burns all over his body and was very insecure about it. When he went to camp he told me that the kids there weren't afraid to show their burns. They didn't try to hide their burns, but embrace them. He also gained many wonderful friends who liked him for himself and not out of sympathy.”

          The camp hosts an average of 65 to 75 kids each June and is free of cost. Buses are also provided to pick children up and drive them to the camp site at the YMCA Camp Duncan in Ingleside free of charge.

          Zaleski plans to continue developing valuable support programs, such as Family Day, through the IFSA for burn survivors and their families.